VPN Glossary

Learn everything about VPNs

VPN Glossary

What is an Ad Blocker?

An Ad Blocker is software (often in the form of a browser add-on) that prevents web pages from displaying advertisements. Many Ad Blockers also block ad-based malware and prevent companies from tracking your browsing behavior across multiple websites, which is called cross-site-tracking.

Commonly used Ad-blockers are Ad Block Plus and uBlock Origin.

What is AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)?

AES is a widely used encryption protocol. It includes both AES-128 and AES-256, of which the latter is the most secure and used by the US government. It has been created over a decade ago, has been tested extensively, and is still considered unbreakable.

What is a Backdoor?

A backdoor is secret entry into an otherwise perfectly encrypted system. It is often a cryptographic key that allows the owner to circumvent the encryption. In recent years, law enforcement agencies in the USA and beyond have been pushing tech companies to give them backdoor access to their products. This has met with fierce resistance as nearly everyone else considers this a security hazard.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is the most famous cryptocurrency in the world. Is has been developed in 2009 and is an open-source currency, free from links to governments or banks. By operating peer-to-peer technology, transactions using Bitcoin take place between users, without the need for banks and other financial institutions.

Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, make it possible to reduce the paper-trail in transactions and therefor add a layer of privacy. This is why Bitcoin is a relatively popular payment method among privacy-sensitive VPN users.

What is Bitcoin Classic?

Bitcoin Classic was a Bitcoin Core platform that was launched in early 2016 and shut down in late 2017. The platform proposed a major change (“fork”) to the existing cryptocurrency standard, which would see the size of a single block in the blockchain technology increase from 1MB to 2MB. This, in turn, would allow for twice as many transactions to be performed within a second and recorded to the same block.

Although successful at first, Bitcoin Classic failed to catch on. Like its predecessor, Bitcoin XT, which proposed an increase of block sizes to 8MB, it couldn’t compete with the legacy block size of 1MB. After shutting down the platform, the creators of Bitcoin Classic decided to focus on Bitcoin Cash instead.

What is Bitcoin Fog?

Bitcoin Fog is perhaps the most famous example of a cryptocurrency tumbler. As the name suggests, it is a centralized service that allows users to mix their “tainted” (i.e. potentially identifiable or otherwise compromised) cryptocurrency (in this case Bitcoin) with others. Also known as a cryptocurrency mixer, the service makes it more difficult to trace the digital funds in question back to their original source.

Because Bitcoin Fog and other crypto tumblers enhance the overall anonymity of cryptocurrencies, they have become particularly popular among criminals who want to launder stolen digital funds. In 2013, they were used to launder $100 million worth of stolen bitcoins from Sheep Marketplace, an anonymous drug dealing website on the Tor network. Two years later, cybercriminals used cryptocurrency tumblers to hide more than 7,000 bitcoins stolen from the Chinese digital currency exchange Bter.com.

What is Suisse AG?

Bitcoin Suisse AG is a Swiss-based financial service provider that specializes in digital currency brokerage, trading, mining, and asset management. Founded in 2013, the company is also in charge of a network of ATMs in major Swiss cities that allow clients to purchase cryptocurrency in a convenient way and store all the information in their paper wallets. To ensure full compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) regulations, Bitcoin Suisse AG is regulated by the Financial Services Standards Association (VQF).

What is BitTorrent?

BitTorrent is a communication protocol that allows you to download and upload data and files over the internet using the peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing technology. Rather than downloading files from a single source, this protocol allows you to simultaneously download from all the users who have either completed the download of the same file (seeders) or are still downloading it (leechers). To make this possible, each file is broken up into hundreds of tiny data chunks, which are rejoined upon completion.

Founded in 2001 by Bram Cohen, then-student at the University at Buffalo, BitTorrent has become the most popular way of sharing large files both legally (e.g. public domain titles from the Internet Archive) and illegally (copyrighted movies, music, and TV shows). To use the technology, you need to download a dedicated BitTorrent client and have access to the torrent file of the content that you want to obtain.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a term commonly associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It denotes an ever-expanding list of encrypted records and transactions, often referred to as blocks, which are connected using cryptography to form a virtual chain. Touted as one of the most secure ways to exchange digital currency and store data, blockchain can be described as a permanent and decentralized public ledger.

The technology allows for safe storing of digital records of each financial transaction that is visible to everyone who has access to the same blockchain. Once saved to a blockchain, these records cannot be removed or otherwise altered. Instead of being operated from a single center, the blockchain technology is powered by a large network of computers, usually referred to as nodes, which ensure its stability.

What is a Browser Extension?

As the name suggests, a browser extension is a small piece of software that extends the functionality of your web browser. Also known as add-ons, these tools can also be used to change the content of the websites you visit (i.e. AdBlock), play specific types of content (i.e. Flash Player), or gain easier access to the services that you otherwise use (i.e. Evernote Web Clipper). Many VPNs also have a dedicated browser extension in addition to the standalone version that’s installed on your computer.

Cybercriminals can use malicious browser add-ons (most often toolbars) to spy on your browsing activity and/or steal your sensitive data. To avoid this, you should only download trustworthy extensions from official stores like the Chrome Web Store, Safari Extensions, or the Firefox Add-ons page.

What is a Browser Fingerprinting?

Your browser sends information about your computer to each website you visit. Usually referred to as browser fingerprinting, this method allows website owners to see what browser you’re using, what operating system you have installed, all the plugins you use, as well as your language and font preferences. They use this information to create your virtual “fingerprint” and serve you targeted ads. To protect your privacy, browsers like Brave and Firefox allow you to manually disable fingerprinting.

What is a BTDigg?

BTDigg is a BitTorrent search engine that only lists DHT (distributed sloppy hash table) torrents. Rather than relying on torrent files that have to be uploaded to a website and transferred via a centralized tracker, BTDigg looks for new files using the “trackerless” BitTorrent DHT network. This way, even if the central tracker goes down (which has happened quite often in the last few years due to increased anti-piracy activities worldwide), users can continue looking up and sharing files without any interruptions.

What is Canvas Fingerprinting?

Canvas fingerprinting is a special type of online tracking that uses the HTML5 canvas element instead of browser cookies to track your browsing activity. Similar to browser fingerprinting, this method allows website owners and marketers to gather information about your browser, operating system, as well as font and language preferences. They then use this info to generate a unique virtual profile for your device, commonly referred to as a “fingerprint”, and serve you better-targeted ads across the internet.

First discovered in 2014, canvas fingerprinting had the ability to bypass anti-tracking browser add-ons and track your activity even while browsing in private/incognito mode. Nowadays, browsers like Tor and Mozilla Firefox allow you to easily block canvas fingerprinting directly from the settings menu.

What is a Cipher?

A cipher is an algorithm (i.e. a series of steps) used to encrypt and decrypt electronic messages. Usually achieved through the substitution of words and letters from the original text with seemingly random letters, numbers, and symbols, a cipher prevents hackers from understanding the contents of the messages they intercept. Most often used in email communication, this encryption method helps lower the readability of messages and obscure their meaning, thus allowing for secure transmission of data.

What is Closed-Source Software?

Closed-source software is a term that refers to any computer program whose source code wasn’t made public by the authors. This is the opposite of open-source software, where anyone can access the source code and modify it in order to improve or extend the functionality of the computer program in question.

With closed-source software, the source code is only known to the authors and programmers behind the program. All the software you purchase can only be used as intended by the author. This secrecy allows software publishers to generate demand for their product and prevent the competition from copying it.

What are Connection Logs (Metadata Logs)?

Some VPN providers collect data on their users and keep it archived for legal reasons. These archives are usually called connection logs or metadata logs, and they allow VPNs to protect themselves in case a user breaks the terms and conditions of the service. Connection logs typically contain a user’s real IP address, the addresses of each VPN server they connect to, as well as the timestamps of their activity. The logs may also contain information about a user’s operating system and the programs they use.

The type and the amount of information kept in your VPN’s connection logs depend on the cybersecurity laws in the country where your service provider is based. As a rule, all providers keep some basic data on your VPN activity, but your information will remain secure as long as you don’t engage in illegal activity.

What are Cookies?

When you visit a website for the first time, your browser records your preferences (e.g. language and currency settings on shopping websites) and keeps them stored in a small file that is saved on your computer. This small file is commonly referred to as a web cookie. The next time you visit the same website, the server where it’s hosted will access the cookie to adjust the content to your preferences.

Web cookies are typically safe. In fact, most websites require you to have cookies enabled in your browser to use them as intended by the owners. Apart from storing your preferences and personal information, web cookies may also be used by third-party services that serve targeted advertising. To protect your information, many popular browsers allow you to limit or disable third-party cookies.

What are Flash Cookies?

Flash cookies are small text files that are sent from a web server to your web browser when you first visit a website. Websites use flash cookies to save your custom preferences and serve you ads tailored to your interests. They utilize Adobe Flash Player, a once-popular plugin commonly used for videos and ads.

Although they act like traditional web cookies, flash cookies store a lot more information and can be difficult to locate on your hard drive. Also known as local shared objects, they can stay on your computer even after you’ve cleaned your browsing data. To ensure optimal security, you can use a free tool like FlashCookiesView to find, modify, and delete individual flash cookies from your computer.

What are Supercookies?

Supercookies are web cookies that are designed to be permanently stored on a user’s computer. Rather than being downloaded from a web server, these cookies are inserted into an HTTP header by the user’s internet provider and used to collect a wide array of data on their browsing history and surfing habits. Difficult to detect and impossible to remove, supercookies have been subject to much controversy.

This method of online tracking first made the news in 2015, when it was discovered that Verizon was using it to secretly monitor their users’ online activity. Pressured by the US Senate to change its practices, the provider allowed users to opt out of supercookie tracking. However, the company was still fined $1.35 million by the FCC a year later for spying on their users without their explicit consent.

What are Zombie Cookies?

Zombie cookies are web cookies that reappear on your computer after you have manually deleted them. To make this possible, websites use the Quantcast technology to create a flash cookie that is hidden inside the Adobe Flash Player installation on your computer. The flash cookie stores your information and uses it to generate a standard HTTP cookie that is visible from your browser. When you delete the cookie in question, the flash cookie in your Flash Player installation will automatically recreate it.

To get rid of a zombie cookie, you need to delete the flash cookie that keeps recreating it. There are plenty of free tools like CCleaner that can help you achieve this. Some browsers also allow you to opt out of flash cookies, as well as to limit or completely turn off regular HTTP web cookies.

What is a Cryptocurrency?

A cryptocurrency is a virtual or digital currency used in the exchange of goods and services on the internet. Based on the blockchain technology and secured by cryptography, cryptocurrencies are almost impossible to counterfeit. Because most cryptocurrencies are decentralized and designed to bypass the regulated financial market, they are also very difficult to track. For this reason, digital currencies like Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Ethereum are often used for money laundering and funding of illegal activities.

What is a Cryptography?

Cryptography is a method of protecting data by making it incomprehensible to unauthorized users. When sent, messages are encrypted using a unique cryptographic key. They then travel to the recipient, where they are decrypted using the same key. While on their way to the recipient, the messages in question cannot be changed by a third party. Thanks to the use of algorithms and codes that are only known to the sender and the recipient, cryptography allows for more secure and private communication.

What is the Dark Web?

The dark web is a collection of all the websites on the internet that aren’t indexed by standard search engines. Instead, these websites are hosted on .onion domains and can only be accessed using the Tor browser. Due to its limited availability and niche appeal, the dark web has become the go-to destination for all types of cybercriminals – from those trading stolen credit card data, Social Security numbers, and medical records to criminals selling drugs, illegal weapons, stolen cars, and counterfeit documents.

A comprehensive 2016 study found that more than 50% of all sites on the dark web host illegal material. However, there is also plenty of non-malicious content on the dark web. If you know where to look, you can find great examples of non-biased investigative journalism, submit a major news story completely anonymously, or gain instant access to millions of scientific research papers from all over the world.

What is DD-WRT?

DD-WRT is open-source firmware commonly used to “flash” wireless routers (i.e. replace the original firmware installed by the manufacturer). Built on a Linux kernel, DD-WRT extends the functionality and features of routers. For example, you can install this firmware to improve your wireless signal, prevent bandwidth hogging, or set up remote access points for your home network. You also need to install DD-WRT on your wireless router if you want to turn it into a VPN gateway for safe browsing.

What is a DMCA Notice?

DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Signed and enacted in 1998, it is a legal act that allows copyright holders to control the use of their properties on the internet. According to this law, if copyright holders find their content illegally hosted on a website, they have the right to send a formal message to the website owner and request that the content in question is immediately removed.

This formal request is commonly known as a DMCA notice or a DMCA takedown notice. Copyright holders can send takedown notices to internet service providers, website operators, and search engines. In doing so, they need to include a statement that verifies the information in the notice and proves that they own the copyright and/or are entitled to act on behalf of the copyright owner. If providers fail to act on a properly filed DMCA notice, they can be found liable for assisting in copyright infringement.

What is a DNS (Domain Name System)?

Every website on the internet has its own unique IP address that is different from the usual domain name (“www” address) visitors use to access it. The Domain Name System (DNS) indexes all these unique IP addresses and associates them with corresponding domain names. When you enter a web address into your browser and hit enter, DNS will promptly locate the matching IP address and redirect you to it. Since DNS acts as a registry of all the sites on the web, it is often dubbed the phonebook of the internet.

What is a DNS Leak?

As a rule, a good VPN should hide your online activity from your internet service provider. However, some “split-tunnel” VPNs have a security flaw that sends certain requests directly to the DNS servers owned by the internet provider rather than routing them through VPN servers first. This vulnerability is known as a DNS leak. It can expose your browsing activity to your internet provider and online snoopers.

To check if your VPN client is affected by DNS leaks, you can use a free service like DNSLeakTest.com or IPLeak.org. Using DNSCrypt to encrypt the DNS requests sent via your network can help improve your online security. It is also recommended to use a reliable VPN like ExpressVPN or CyberGhost that won’t leak your DNS requests.

What is a DNS Server?

A DNS (Domain Name System) server is a physical computer server that stores the information about all public IP addresses and the hostnames associated with them. In addition, a DNS server also translates those names into IP addresses for easier access. Rather than entering random numbers into the address bar, you just have to enter the “www” address of the site that you want to visit. A DNS server then looks up the unique IP address assigned to that domain name and takes you there in a matter of seconds.

What is a DRD (EU Data Retention Directive)?

The Data Retention Directive is a document issued in 2006 by the European Union which demands that member states store their citizens’ digital communication data for a period of between six months and two years. Under this directive, authorized agencies must keep records of the IP addresses, timestamps, and other information associated with each email, text, and phone call that their citizens send or receive. This directive was invalidated in 2014 because it violated the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Who is Edward Snowden?

Edward Snowden is a computer security specialist who made the news in 2013 when he leaked thousands of confidential NSA documents. Among other things, these documents revealed that mobile providers were sharing user data with the NSA. Snowden also leaked the information about PRISM, the NSA’s secret program that allowed them to collect detailed user data via services like Google and Apple.

Days after the documents were made public, American prosecutors charged Snowden with espionage and theft of government property. He planned to flee to Ecuador, but his passport was revoked mid-journey. Since 2013, he has been living in Russia – first as an asylum seeker and then as a temporary resident. Snowden was the subject of a 2016 feature film co-written and directed by Oliver Stone.

What is Encryption?

Encryption is the use of computer algorithms to secure private information and make it unreadable for any unauthorized users who may gain access to it. This method converts plaintext into a seemingly random series of characters known as ciphertext. The encrypted information can only be decrypted by an end user who has access to the correct decryption key. Encryption is commonly used on the internet to protect sensitive information like passwords, online banking credentials, and credit card details.

What is Encryption Key Length?

To secure sensitive information, encryption algorithms use cryptographic keys that comprise a specific number of bits, i.e. pieces of data. The number of bits in an encryption key is commonly known as the key length or key size. It determines how many combinations a hacker or a machine would have to try in order to break the encryption. For example, if the key length is 20 bits, there would be 2 to the power of 20 = 1,048,576 possible keys. As a rule, the longer the key length, the more secure your information should be.

What is End-to-End Timing Attack?

An end-to-end timing attack is a cybersecurity exploit that allows hackers to identify and make use of vulnerabilities in your encryption system. In timing attacks, cyber attackers measure how much time your system needs to respond to a specific input. They then use statistical analysis to identify the exact input and determine the right encryption key that would give them access to your system. The success of timing attacks depends on the system’s CPU capacity, the type of encryption, and the algorithms used.

What is End-to-End (E2E) Encryption?

End-to-end encryption is a method that prevents any third parties from eavesdropping on personal communication carried out over the internet. As the name suggests, only the end users – the sender and the recipient – can see the content of the messages they exchange.  No one else, including the internet service provider, the app service provider, and cyber attackers, is able to access the messages.

This encryption method is most commonly used in email communication and instant messaging. Rather than encrypting entire conversations at once, some messaging platforms like WhatsApp encrypt each individual message separately, which makes communication even more secure and harder to intercept.

What is an ETag?

An entity tag (ETag for short) is a mechanism that uses HTTP headers to verify unchanged cached resources. For example, when you visit a website that has a built-in ETag, your browser will cache it. The next time you visit the website, a request will be sent to the web server that hosts the site in question, asking if a new version is available. If the server responds negatively, the content of the site will load from your browser’s cache, thus allowing both the website owner and the end user to save bandwidth.

What is facebookcorewwwi.onion?

facebookcorewwwi.onion is the official address of Facebook on the Tor network. Launched in 2014, this address uses the .onion domain which is associated with the dark web and accessible only via the Tor browser. It allows users to browse the popular social media platform anonymously and to use Tor to access Facebook without having their account blacklisted due to logging in from an unusual address.

Facebook is the first major digital media company to create an .onion version of its .com website. This Tor-friendly version of the website also allows users from countries where Facebook is blocked or otherwise censored (e.g. Bangladesh and China) to access the service without getting in legal trouble.

What is File Sharing?

As the name suggests, file sharing is the act of sharing documents, images, software, books, and audio/video files over the internet. It refers to public or private, authorized or unauthorized distribution of multimedia content online. File sharing is usually carried out via distributed peer-to-peer networks and file hosting services. While some forms of file sharing are perfectly legal, the unauthorized uploading and downloading of copyrighted content is considered a civil offense in many jurisdictions worldwide.

What is Firefox?

Firefox is a free, open-source web browser created by the Mozilla Foundation. First released in 2002, it was a successor to the once-popular Netscape Navigator. From its original launch, Mozilla Firefox was lauded for its advanced security features, user-friendly interface, and built-in support for hundreds of plugins that can extend its functionality. Advertised as Firefox Quantum since 2016, it is currently the second most used desktop browser in the world, lagging far behind the first-place Google Chrome.

What are the Five Eyes?

The Five Eyes is an international intelligence and cybersecurity alliance between five English-speaking countries – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Founded on the principles of the 1946 UKUSA agreement, the alliance members can order any service provider (including internet providers, application providers, and social media platforms) to secretly install malware on their users’ computers and use it to spy on their internet activity, browsing habits, and online communication.

Similar intelligence alliances include the Nine Eyes, which comprises the members of the Five Eyes as well as France, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands, and the Fourteen Eyes, which adds five more countries – Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, and Spain. If your VPN provider is located in any of these countries or has servers there, they are likely obliged by law to keep logs of your online activity.

What is the Free Internet Act?

Free Internet Act was the working title of the Freedom of Internet Act, the first crowdsourced piece of legislation that originated from a Reddit post. Created and proposed in response to controversial regulations SOPA and PIPA, the Freedom of Internet Act aimed to regulate the use of the internet in four key areas – free speech, censorship, privacy, and copyright. The act passed in January 2012 and is often credited for starting the global conversation about net neutrality and internet privacy laws.

What is a Gag Order?

A gag order is an official document issued by a court or a government that prevents individuals and organizations from disclosing specific information to the public. In cybersecurity, the term refers to an order that forces software and service providers (including VPNs) to keep logs of their users’ activity without asking consent from them or otherwise notifying them of this act. Aimed at lowering cybercrime rates, this is a common practice in countries around the world, and the United States is no exception.

Between 2014 and 2016, several tech companies – including Facebook, Microsoft, and Adobe – received multiple gag orders with questionable reasoning and no fixed end date. In 2017, the Department of Justice updated its policy on gag orders to specify that all orders must have strong reasoning and that the duration of a single gag order mustn’t be longer than a year except in exceptional circumstances.

What is the GCHQ?

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ for short) is a UK intelligence and security agency based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Founded after the First World War, the organization is authorized to listen in on phone conversations, intercept satellite signals, and read electronic communication to gather the information it needs in order to protect the government’s secrets.

GCHQ made the news in 2013 when the documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the organization was collecting extensive information about the citizens’ digital activity via the top-secret Tempora program. Although the Guardian newspaper had received numerous documents that detailed the operations of this agency, they had to destroy them all to avoid legal action by the UK government.

What are Geo-Restrictions?

Geo-restrictions are the result of geo-blocking, a common internet practice that restricts access to a piece of online content from specific locations. Using a combination of geolocation techniques, content owners can prevent users in certain geographic locations from accessing the content that they own.

This practice is especially common in digital media distribution where streaming platforms usually don’t have the rights to distribute a piece of content outside of the territories specified by the owner. For example, Netflix may have the rights to distribute a popular TV show in the United States, but the same show may be unavailable to users in Germany because Amazon Prime holds the distribution rights there. The only way to bypass these limitations is to use VPNs or proxies to mask your IP address.

What is Geo-Spoofing?

Geo-spoofing refers to the use of VPNs and other anonymization services to mask your IP address so that it appears to be in a foreign country of your choice. Most VPN clients let you choose from at least a handful of VPN server locations. In addition to allowing for anonymous browsing, geo-spoofing also gives you access to geo-blocked content that is normally unavailable where you live. For example, if you want to stream shows on Hulu outside of the US, you just have to connect to a US-based VPN server.

What is a Handshake?

In telecommunication, a handshake is the process of negotiation between two communicating parties – the client and the server. Occurring automatically before the actual exchange begins, handshaking helps establish the rules and parameters of communication and determine the best protocol to use.

The noise made by a dial-up modem as it connects to the internet and attempts to establish optimal connection parameters is a classic example of handshaking. Similarly, when you’re waiting for a website to load, it’s your computer negotiating with the server to make sure that the site is shown as intended.

What is History Stealing?

Some websites use certain methods and techniques to collect sensitive data about their users’ browsing histories. This is usually referred to as browser history stealing. About a decade ago, websites used a combination of JavaScript and the “visited” CSS selector to determine what sites a user has visited based on the color of the links that lead to them. In recent years, the bulk of history stealing has been done by browser plugins like the now-defunct Stylish, which store its users’ entire histories on private servers.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. An extension of the standard Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), HTTPS is used on the internet to allow for secure communication and transferring of data. The protocol encrypts the content of the communication using Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Socket Layer (SSL), which is why it is often referred to as HTTP over SSL or HTTP over TLS.

When you visit a website that uses HTTPS, you will usually see a padlock icon next to your browser’s address bar. Clicking on this icon opens the website’s SSL Client Certificate, where you can find the name of the website owner, the authority that issued the certificate, as well as the issuance and expiry dates.

What is I2P?

The Invisible Internet Project (I2P) is an open-source internet network built to provide an anonymous, censorship-free browsing experience. Similar to the Tor network, I2P is a darknet that uses end-to-end encryption to secure data. It reroutes traffic through a voluntary network of 55,000+ computers around the world, a process known as garlic routing. Unlike Tor, sites hosted on the .i2p domain can be accessed from most popular internet browsers. To do this, you will have to install Java and set up an I2P proxy.

What is Incognito Mode?

Incognito mode (also known as InPrivate in Microsoft Edge and Private Browsing in Firefox) is a feature that prevents your browser from caching the sites you visit and saving them to your history. When you’re browsing in private mode, your computer won’t save cookies, visited URLs, or form history. This is useful for shared computers as it allows you to hide your activity from others who use the same computer.

The privacy protection only applies to the browser itself. Browsing in incognito mode doesn’t make you anonymous on the internet. Both your internet provider and your employer will still have access to your browsing history, while your IP address will be visible to the owners of the websites you visit.

What is an IP Address?

An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a logical numerical address assigned to every single device connected to the internet. These addresses provide identification for each individual device, which is why they’re considered the building blocks of computer networks. A standard IP address consists of two parts – the first identifies the network that the address belongs to, while the second shows the exact location of the associated device. IP addresses can be static (unchanging) and dynamic (changing periodically).

What is an IP Address Spoofing?

IP address spoofing is the use of fake IP addresses by hackers who want to hide their identity in order to carry out cyber attacks. As a rule, the attacker will use an existing IP address to gain access to a network they couldn’t otherwise join. The security system on the other end will treat their spoofed IP address as trusted, so it won’t see this activity as anything out of the ordinary. Although most forms of IP address spoofing are malicious, some – like the use of VPNs for online anonymity and security – are not.

What is an IP Fragmentation Attack?

Any data transmitted using the Internet Protocol (IP) is broken up into multiple IP packets that don’t exceed the maximum transmission unit (MTU) capacity of the target network. Commonly known as IP fragmentation, this process allows for smooth data transfer across different networks. When the data in question arrives at its destination, the fragments are reassembled according to the provided instructions.

Although IP fragmentation is necessary for successful data transmission, hackers have found ways to use it for malicious purposes. To carry out IP fragmentation attacks, they bombard the target server with fraudulent IP packets that exceed the MTU capacity of the target network. Because the packets are false, they don’t contain reassembly instructions, so the target server won’t be able to assemble them. This will quickly overwhelm the server’s computational resources and result in network unavailability.

What is an IP Leak?

If you’re browsing with your VPN client on, your computer may still connect to your internet provider’s default servers in order to access certain websites. When that happens, the website in question will see your real IP address rather than the anonymous IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to. When you try to access some geo-restricted content, it will be unavailable despite having your VPN client on. This is referred to as an IP leak, and it happens due to a security flaw in the VPN software that you use.

To see if your VPN is leaking data, you should check your IP address on Google and then check it again after connecting to a VPN server of your choice. If your address remains the same, it means that you are not browsing anonymously and that you should switch to a VPN that doesn’t have these problems.

What is an IPv4?

IPv4 is the fourth version of the Internet Protocol (IP) used to connect devices to the internet and identify each of them. First introduced in 1981, it is still the most commonly used IP. This protocol utilizes 32-bit addresses, which means that it can support up to 232 = 4.3 billion IP addresses. With the steady development of the internet and the proliferation of internet-connected devices, it is expected that all available IPv4 addresses will eventually be taken and that the protocol will be succeeded by IPv6.

What is an IPv6?

IPv6 is the sixth revision of the Internet Protocol (IP) which aims to solve the problems related to the anticipated shortage of IPv4 addresses. This protocol uses a 128-bit address scheme, which allows for close to 3.4 x 1038 IP addresses, much more than the maximum of 4.3 billion allowed by IPv4. In development since 1998, IPv6 was finally standardized in 2017. IPv6 addresses have a characteristic representation that includes eight colon-separated groups of four hexadecimal digits (16 bits) each.

What is an ISP?

As the name suggests, an internet service provider (ISP) is a company that provides internet access to its customers. Depending on the available infrastructure, they may offer dial-up, cable, DSL, satellite, and/or wireless access to the internet. They also provide all the resources that the customers need in order to connect their computer and other devices to the internet. Some ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon also offer a wide range of additional telecommunication services (e.g. television, mobile, or streaming).

What is ISP Throttling?

Your internet service provider (ISP) may deliberately slow down your connection when accessing certain websites. Known as ISP throttling, this practice has gained media attention in 2014 when Comcast started limiting their users’ bandwidth while using Netflix, thus preventing them from streaming HD videos. Comcast’s throttling sparked angry reactions from unsatisfied customers directed at Netflix.

While Comcast claimed this was a normal policy meant to minimize bandwidth congestion, experts believed that they wanted to force Netflix to pay more money for full-speed access to their services. These assumptions were proven correct in the summer of 2014 when Netflix agreed to pay Comcast a so-called “access fee”. This move was widely criticized not only because Comcast abused its market power for financial gain but also because the company was in clear violation of net neutrality principles.

What is a Jurisdiction?

In relation to the internet, the term jurisdiction refers to a system of courts and institutions that have the authority to hear and judge cases related to cybercrime. Jurisdiction can also refer to the laws and legal acts that regulate the use of the internet in a certain geographic region. In territories with insufficient privacy laws, internet service providers are legally forced to keep logs of their users browsing history.

Some jurisdictions also choose to limit or outright ban the use of online privacy tools like VPN software. To avoid getting in trouble, you need to consider the location of your VPN provider. As a rule, you should use VPN software from providers located in jurisdictions with strict net privacy laws and zero censorship.

What is a Kill Switch?

Kill switch is a privacy feature included in most popular VPN programs. If your VPN connection drops for any reason while browsing, this feature will immediately disconnect you from the internet. In doing so, it will prevent your internet provider from tracking your activity and website owners from seeing your IP address. Once your VPN client reconnects to your preferred VPN server, your connection will resume. Some VPNs have this feature enabled by default, while some others require you to turn it on manually.

What is a L2TP / IPsec?

L2TP/IPsec is a combination of Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), a tunneling protocol built into most VPN clients, and Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), an encryption suite that secures data packages sent over VPN protocols. L2TP/IPsec has no major security vulnerabilities, which is why it is the preferred protocol of many VPN users and providers. A few years ago, Edward Snowden said that the protocol was tampered with and weakened by the NSA, but he provided no solid evidence to back up this claim.

What are Logs?

Logs are records that contain all information collected by your internet or VPN provider about your online habits. Most providers keep connection logs, which include the timestamps of your connection start and end, your real IP address as well as the one assigned to you by the VPN server, and the total amount of data transferred during your session. In addition, some providers may keep activity logs, which include info about the websites you visit, files you download, and the programs you use to do it.

What is Metadata?

In communication, metadata refers to the details of a message that don’t reveal its actual content. For example, when you send a letter, the names and the addresses written on the envelope can be classified as metadata. Many internet and VPN providers say that they “only” log your metadata in an effort to downplay the importance of the information they collect. However, your metadata can still provide a lot of personal information, including your IP address, upload/download volume, and connection details.

Metadata logging policies are usually regulated by data retention laws. These laws are particularly strict in Australia. Since April 2017, all Australian telecommunication providers are legally obliged to collect their users’ internet, phone, text message, and email metadata. On top of that, they must store this information for two years and allow government agencies to access it upon request.

What is a National Intranet?

Instead of giving their citizens access to the global internet, some countries with strict censorship policies set up their own IP-based networks that only contain information deemed suitable by local authorities. These networks are called national intranets and serve as a politically safe substitute for public internet. Known as “halal internet” in Islamic countries, they allow governments to control their citizens’ online activity. Examples of countries with a national intranet include Cuba, Myanmar, and North Korea.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should treat all data the same regardless of its type, content, source, or destination. According to this principle, internet providers shouldn’t engage in throttling practices and limit their users’ bandwidth when accessing certain websites. The ongoing debate about net neutrality in the United States also examines the validity of government regulation and whether internet should be considered a public utility rather than merely an opt-in/opt-out service.

What is the NSA?

The United States National Security Agency (NSA) is a government organization in charge of collecting and processing various data for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes. Throughout its history, the agency was subject to many controversies, including the spying of the leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s. In 2013, confidential documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA actively monitored the communication of United States citizens using their cell phone metadata.

What is Open Source Software?

Open-source software is any computer program whose source code was made public by the authors. It is a collaborative development model, in which any developer can access the source code and modify it in order to improve the functionality of the program in question. In addition, developers are also free to reuse and/or distribute the source code. This model is particularly important in terms of cybersecurity, as it helps remove backdoors and malicious components that may be found in proprietary software.

What is OpenVPN?

OpenVPN is an open-source VPN protocol used by most commercial VPN services available nowadays. Highly customizable, this protocol is known for its advanced security features and compatibility with a wide range of devices and platforms. OpenVPN is compatible with both TCP and UDP protocols and supports 160-bit and 256-bit encryption, thus allowing for secure transmission of data. For added security, it can also be used in combination with encryption ciphers like AES, Camellia, and CAST-128.

What is Peer-to-Peer?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) is a network that allows computers and other connected devices to share files directly with each other rather than via a central server. Because the communication between peers isn’t routed through a single server, P2P networks are not susceptible to centralized shutdowns or cyber attacks. Even though it has some legitimate uses (e.g. game updates and file synching), the P2P technology is most often associated with torrenting, file sharing, and online piracy.

What is a Password Manager?

A password manager is a piece of software that allows you to safely store and manage all the passwords you use to access websites and online services. Rather than saving them as plain text, password managers store your passwords in an encrypted format and hide them all behind a master password for superior security. In addition, these programs allow you to quickly generate strong passwords. They can also integrate into your browser and automatically enter your passwords into appropriate login forms.

What is a Password / Passphrase?

A password is a combination of alphanumeric characters and symbols used to restrict access to systems, programs, and services. On the internet, it is typically used in combination with a username, and both need to be entered in order to gain access to the data hidden behind the lock. Passwords that are longer than usual and/or combine two or more words are referred to as passphrases. They usually include numbers, spaces, capital and non-capital letters, and symbols, which makes them difficult to crack.

What is a Piggyback Attack?

A piggyback attack is a form of online wiretapping where the attacker hacks into the system via their target’s active, legitimate connection. The attacker then uses the intervals during which the target is inactive to engage in cybercriminal activity. Because the attacker enters the target system in between two periods of user activity, piggyback attacks are sometimes called between-the-lines attacks.

What is Port Forwarding?

Port forwarding is the process of redirecting communication requests from one port to another while they are moving through a network gateway. The process relies on network address translation (NAT), a method that modifies one address space in the IP header of data packets. This method makes it possible to securely transfer data to machines hidden behind a firewall or a NAT router. It is also used to speed up downloads in peer-to-peer file sharing and to enable incoming connections in online multiplayer games.

What is PPTP?

PPTP stands for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. It is an old VPN protocol that has been surpassed by the likes of OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec. Very easy to set up and available on virtually every platform that supports VPN, PPTP has remained popular with many businesses and VPN providers. However, the protocol has many known security issues, which is why cybersecurity experts strongly advise against it.

What is Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)?

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is a program that encrypts and decrypts communications and files transmitted over the internet. Although it has a much wider application, the program was initially developed by Phil Zimmerman as an email security tool. First released in 1991, PGP used a combination of private and public encryption keys to secure data. However, the program never gained wide popularity due to the complicated setup process and its inability to encrypt the metadata contained in the email’s header.

What is a Proxy Server?

A proxy server is a dedicated server that sits between your computer and the internet and acts as an intermediary. When your traffic is routed through a proxy server, your IP address is hidden and replaced with the address of the server, thus preventing the websites you visit from tracking your activity. Unlike VPNs, proxies don’t have the capacity to encrypt data, which means that your traffic isn’t secure. Also, while proxies allow for anonymous browsing, your internet provider will still be able to log your activity.

What is a Psiphon?

Psiphon is a free, open-source tool that allows users to bypass internet filtering and access censored content. To make this possible, it combines a VPN tunneling system with HTTP proxies and the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol. Based in Canada, Psiphon is primarily aimed at citizens of countries with strict internet censorship laws. This censorship circumvention tool is available for Windows, Android, and iOS.

What is a Root Certificate?

Websites use SSL certificates to prove their authenticity and verify their security status. They are issued by one of the 1200+ Certificate Authorities (CAs), who are also authorized to issue certificates to less authoritative CAs, thus forming a tree structure of sorts. The CA at the root of that tree is called the root Certificate Authority, while the certificate that authenticates them is called the root certificate.

Root certificates for software are typically provided by OS developers (e.g. Apple and Microsoft) and used by third-party apps developed for their platforms. Some software developers also create their own SSL certificates and use them in all their products. Notable examples include Adobe, Mozilla, and Opera.

What is a Router?

A router is a home network device that connects your local home network to the internet. In addition to being connected to the internet, routers are typically also connected to at least two devices on your home network. Modern routers also act as wireless access points and provide Wi-Fi internet access to internet-ready devices that are within range. What’s more, you can use your router as a hardware firewall and set it up to keep your home computer network safe from hackers and other intruders.

What is RSA Encryption?

RSA encryption is an encryption technology commonly used to secure important communications that are transmitted over the internet. Developed by RSA Security, the algorithm relies on the difficulty in factoring the multiplication of two large prime numbers. To strengthen encryption, RSA uses prime factorization. Extracting an RSA key is thus very time-consuming and requires a lot of computational power. Due to the superior security it provides, RSA encryption is used by most popular VPN protocols.

What is RSA Security?

RSA Security is a Bedford, Massachusetts-based security company known for developing the eponymous encryption technology. The company made the news in 2013 when the documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had secretly paid $10 million to RSA to insert a backdoor in their products. Founded in 1982 as an independent company, RSA Security is now part of Dell Technologies.

What is the Safe Harbor Framework?

The Safe Harbor Framework (also known as the International Safe Harbor Privacy Principles) was a set of rules that aimed to ensure that firms from the United States comply with EU data protection laws. More specifically, these principles aimed to prevent US-based companies from accidentally disclosing or losing EU citizens’ personal information. The Safe Harbor Framework was overturned in October 2015 by the European Court of Justice. It was replaced in July 2016 by the EU-US Privacy Shield Framework.

What is Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol?

Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is a VPN tunneling protocol used on Microsoft Windows. Owned by Microsoft, SSTP is usually paired with Secure Socket Layer (SSL) 3.0 to transmit data over a VPN network. Whereas SSL does the actual data transmission, SSTP helps the data move through a network of proxy servers and firewalls. This protocol is most often used for remote access to private networks.

What are Shared IP Addresses (Shared IPs)?

To ensure optimal privacy for their users, many VPN providers now assign a single IP address to multiple users at the same time. These addresses are referred to as shared IPs. When an IP address is used by hundreds or thousands of devices at once, observers will have a difficult time figuring out which of the users is responsible for a specific action. This, in turn, allows for even more anonymity while browsing.

What are Simultaneous Connections?

The term simultaneous connections refers to the maximum number of devices that you can use your VPN on at once. While you can normally install your VPN provider’s client on as many devices as you want, you can only use them on a limited number of devices simultaneously. Most VPNs allow up to five simultaneous connections. This means that you can use your VPN on your computer, your tablet, your phone, and up to two other devices at the same time without having to disconnect any of them.

What is a SmartDNS?

SmartDNS is a proxy-based technology that automatically locates DNS servers in different countries, thus allowing you to easily access geo-restricted content. The technology works much like VPN and gives you access to websites that are otherwise unavailable in your region. Because there’s no encryption involved, SmartDNS offers much better speeds than the VPN technology. However, the lack of encryption also means that you don’t get the privacy and security features that you would get with a VPN service.

What is Split Tunneling?

Split tunneling is a feature found in some VPNs that allows you to use a public network and a VPN network simultaneously. For example, you can use a VPN for your torrent client while browsing the web from your actual IP address at the same time. That way, you get to browse the internet at a normal speed, while your torrent traffic is encrypted and secured by the VPN protocol. Some VPNs with built-in split tunneling functionality may be prone to DNS leaks, so you need to choose your VPN very carefully.

What is SSL / TLS?

Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) are cryptographic protocols used to secure HTTPS websites. They provide authentication and encryption, thus allowing for secure transmission of sensitive data over the internet. SSL and TLS use certificates to verify the authenticity and security of the websites you’re visiting. If a website has a valid SSL certificate, your browser will initiate a secure connection and display a padlock icon. Although TLS is the successor to SSL, both are still widely used.

What is the Pirate Bay?

The Pirate Bay is a popular torrent search engine that allows users to search for and download movies, music, TV shows, eBooks, and software. Founded in 2003 in Sweden, the Pirate Bay was one of the first torrent websites to introduce encrypted magnet links as a more secure alternative to torrent files.

Due to its immense popularity and the fact that it facilitates unauthorized download of copyrighted content, the website has been subject to much controversy, including the 2009 arrest and imprisonment of its founders and the numerous takedowns that have occurred since. Despite that, the site is still active, although it is experiencing frequent downtimes and technical difficulties. However, because of its unparalleled persistence, the Pirate Bay was dubbed “the galaxy’s most resilient BitTorrent site”.

What is Tor?

Tor is an anonymity network that allows for secure browsing and data transmission. Whereas a VPN only routes your connection through one or two servers, Tor uses a series of nodes to ensure that your IP address cannot be seen by anyone. The Tor network can only be accessed via the eponymous browser that also allows you to visit .onion websites on the dark web. While Tor provides more online anonymity than VPNs, it is not without its downsides, including the lack of encryption for its exit nodes.

What are Tor Hidden Services?

In addition to providing anonymity for its users, Tor can do the same for websites and servers. Tor hidden services allow you to create a website and register your own .onion domain, which will only be accessible to Tor users. Due to its limited availability and the content it hosts, Tor has become synonymous with the dark web. Some of the most notable hidden services include the award-winning investigative journalism website ProPublica and the privacy-oriented search engine DuckDuckGo.

What is Torrenting?

Torrenting refers to the sharing of files using the BitTorrent protocol. To allow for easier transfer, each file is broken up into hundreds of data chunks that are downloaded separately and then reassembled upon completion. Furthermore, instead of getting the entire file from a single source, torrenting allows you to download individual chunks from multiple users who have either completed the download or are still downloading the file in question. To download a torrent file, you need to install a BitTorrent client.

What are Tunneling Protocols?

Tunneling protocols allow for the secure transfer of data over a computer network or the internet. These protocols use a process called encapsulation to make it possible for private network communications to be transmitted over a public network (i.e. the internet). In order to travel across a public network, the transmitted data packets look as if they are of a public nature. However, their content is fully encrypted and can only be decrypted by the recipient once it reaches its destination.

What is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)?

Two-factor authentication is an authentication method that uses two steps instead of just one to verify your identity. With one-factor authentication, only one step is required to verify your identity, e.g. entering your username and password. Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security, e.g. a verification code sent to your mobile phone. Therefore, even if someone gains access to your credentials, they still won’t be able to log in to your account without also having access to your phone.

What is UDP?

User Datagram Protocol (UDP) is a communication protocol that allows users to send data packets over the internet. Sometimes used as an alternative to Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), UDP has the ability to differentiate user requests by port numbers. In addition, it also has a verification feature to ensure that the transmitted data has reached its destination. Unlike TCP, UDP doesn’t check each packet after transmission. While this allows for shorter transfer times, it also leaves room for corrupt data.

What is a URL?

Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is the alphanumeric address of a website (e.g. www.softwarelab.org). In addition to a unique IP address, every website has its own unique URL that you have to type into your browser’s address bar to access the site. Because computers can’t process URLs, a DNS server is used to translate the alphanumeric address into the corresponding IP address and direct your traffic to it.

What are Usage Logs?

A usage log is a file that contains all the information that your internet or VPN provider has collected about your online behavior. Often referred to as activity log, this file can contain information about the websites you have visited, the files you have downloaded, as well as the browsers and apps you have used to connect to the internet. As a rule, VPN providers don’t keep usage logs unless they are legally forced to do it. Instead, most VPNs only log connection data that cannot be used to identify you.

What is the USA Freedom Act?

The USA Freedom Act is a law that marked the end of the mass collection of phone metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA). The law was enacted on June 2, 2015, just a day after the expiration of the USA Patriot Act, from which it ported over several provisions. Although the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court initially extended the collection of metadata for an additional six months, the practice was fully discontinued by late November 2015.

What is the USA Patriot Act?

The USA Patriot Act was an extensive collection of security measures passed in the aftermath of 9/11. One of the most controversial provisions of the Act was Section 215, which allowed the NSA to collect phone and internet metadata from US citizens. Although initially set to expire at the end of 2005, Section 215 kept getting renewed for ten consecutive years. The act was ultimately allowed to expire in May 2015, not long after Edward Snowden leaked the details about the NSA’s secret surveillance programs.

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network (VPN) is a privacy and security technology that allows for anonymous browsing. Originally developed to aid remote workers who needed to connect securely to corporate networks, the VPN technology allows users to transmit data via a public network as if they were connected to a private network. VPNs mask the users’ IP addresses, thus preventing providers from tracking their activity and websites from logging their personal details. The data is encrypted, thus allowing for secure transfer.

What is a VPN Client?

A VPN client is the software you use to connect to a VPN service. Depending on the platform, VPN clients are also known as VPN programs (desktop) and VPN apps (mobile). Most VPN clients nowadays allow you to choose the location of the VPN server that you want to connect to, while some also let you create a list of favorite servers for quick access. In addition, many of today’s VPN clients come with extra features like the kill switch functionality, split tunneling, protocol selection, and browser extensions.

What is a VPN Protocol?

A VPN protocol is a group of processes used by VPN providers to ensure their users can connect to VPN servers quickly and securely. Different VPN services use different protocols to secure their users’ data on the internet. Those protocols differ in terms of encryption strength, platform compatibility, connection speed, and customization options. The most common VPN protocols include OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, SSTP, and PPTP, and IKEv2. Many VPN clients allow you to choose your preferred VPN protocol manually.

What is a VPN Tunnel?

A VPN tunnel is an encrypted connection established between your computer and your chosen VPN server. Thanks to the combination of anonymity features and superior encryption of up to 256 bits, this connection is very secure and impossible to intercept and/or monitor. The activity inside your VPN tunnel is completely private and cannot be tracked by the government or your internet provider.

What is a VPS?

A virtual private server (VPS) is a shared server that acts like a private one. You get to rent a portion of a physical server from your hosting provider without sharing any physical resources with others who are using the same server. Not only can you expand your server space if needed but you can also install any operating system regardless of what others are using. You can also configure your VPS to act as a remote server for your business or home network or use it as a personal VPN server.

What is a Warrant Canary?

Communication companies, ISPs, and VPN providers can sometimes be served with secret government subpoenas (also known as gag orders) that prevent them from publicly disclosing some information. For example, the government may order them to log their customers’ activity without notifying them about this. When that happens, some companies may choose to inform their customers in an indirect way. This practice is called a warrant canary and it represents a way for providers to keep their users in the loop.

Most providers publish a regularly updated statement on their website to inform users that no gag orders have been served. These warrant canaries typically show the date when the last change was made. If the canary stops being regularly updated or if it is removed altogether from the website, it can be interpreted as a signal that the provider has received a gag order. The legality of warrant canaries in the US hasn’t yet been tested in court, but the practice was made illegal in Australia a few years ago.

What is Web Storage?

Web storage (also known as DOM storage) is a unique HTML5 feature that allows websites to store data in your browser in a way that’s very similar to cookies. Unlike cookies, however, web storage has a much larger capacity and doesn’t store any information in the HTTP request header. There are two types of DOM storage – local storage saves data permanently and is able to restore it even after you’ve manually deleted it, while session storage only retains data for the duration of your browsing session.

What is a Wifi Hotspot?

The term Wi-Fi hotspot refers to any physical location where you can obtain wireless internet access. It is most commonly used in reference to cafés, restaurants, hotels, airports, and other facilities that have a public Wi-Fi access point. As convenient as they are, public Wi-Fi hotspots are usually unencrypted and therefore very unsafe. To protect your data from hackers, it is recommended to use a VPN while surfing.

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